I Have Cancer. Now What?

Three simple words.  Three simple words impossible to say. 

I deviate a little from my normal parenting blog.  I am used to naming a challenge and looking back, giving the one-liner solution, hopefully helping my readers.  This time, no solution.  This is more of a stream of consciousness of my thoughts in the last month.  Many times in life, something happens that changes everything. “I’ve been accepted to XYZ college!” is one.  “I’m pregnant.  For real!” is one.  “We’re moving!” is another.  But, when you hit your 60’s, those moments are fewer.  For me, it just happened. In February, I took an amazing anniversary trip to Hawaii.  In March, I found a lump in my breast.  Two weeks later it was diagnosed cancer and 5 days ago (in April) I had surgery to remove it and adjacent lymph nodes.  Just like that. So, now I’m taking the time to reflect on what is going on in my mind, right now.

Three simple words and everything changed. 

Mostly the conversations in my head changed.  The one thing that has struck me so far is that I cannot say the words out loud and finish; I choke up.  And then the next thing out of my mouth is to reassure everyone so they are not upset.  What is that all about?  So, mostly I write the words.  To let my close friends know, I texted, giving them the facts of the situation.  I emailed those that I hadn’t seen in a while.  Fortunately, most of my immediate family was with me at the moment I found out. 

I first had an aspiration biopsy and actually went by myself thinking I was just going to talk with the surgeon.  I had to pick up my daughter’s friend at the airport right after, so that took my mind off that.  I had prior plans for that week, and cancer was not in them. So, when the doctor called me with results, the girls and I were actually out shopping.  Fits, doesn’t it? Could I shop for a new body? I went outside to take the call but when I came back in, only an expression of my head and they knew.  Fortunately the doctor had said, “We are not going to take your breast off for this, so you are looking at lumpectomy.  Can you come by in the morning and bring someone with you?”  So, that was a reassurance I could give the girls.  Then, silence.  One of the most touching moments of the whole experience was when one of the girls immediately looked at me and said,

“I think you need a hug!  Let me give you a hug.” 

Man, that was the truth.  Out of the mouth of babes.  Well, 27 years old.

And so my story starts. And it is a parenting story because it affects my daughters, my living aunts, and my cousins.  We are all connected.  Our DNA might be affected.  If nothing else, we now have breast cancer in our family.  I’m sorry for that.  I told my friends, but other than that, for some reason I wanted to keep it private.  I don’t know why; maybe I was getting used to the idea myself.  My sister-in-law was the perfect person to take to the surgical consult.  She typed up 4 written pages of what the doctor said!  I call her my doctor sidekick.  My brother and I went over the course of illness and treatment choices for our parents, one who died of lung cancer, the other ovarian.  We went over all the reasons that they chose the treatments they did.  And, of course, my husband and I went over all the scenarios, good to bad, and I was reassured that he had my back, whatever treatments I chose.

Other than that, I went directly to 3 women that I knew had recently experienced breast cancer.  I wanted to hear their stories first hand.  What stages they had, why they chose the treatments they did, what physically happened with their bodies after each treatment and what would they do differently. (Nothing –everyone is doing the best they can.)  I didn’t want to hear second hand or third party info.  I learned all I needed to know from those 3 women and my doctors.  I don’t want to hear a million stories, and sadly, there are millions!!  

I don’t want to be a breast cancer expert.  I just want to get through it myself.

So, now I am out on social media.  My surgery has been completed and preliminary results show no lymph node involvement, which is a breather.  Whew!  I’m recovering.  Good thing I am a pro at surgery.  I didn’t have any anxiety over that, was just dreading it.  I still have radiation ahead of me and have to see an oncologist.

The things that have impressed my so far is the considerate care everyone has given me.  People that don’t even know me.  I am new to my area and don’t have many connections.  Yet, I feel like I landed in the right place at the right time.  I also cannot believe the sheer numbers of breast cancer cases, and especially heartbreaking are the young girls I’ve met.  What a horrible burden to place on a young person.  It’s an epidemic.  And the one thing I cannot shake is what if the cancer had been worse?  What is it had been one of the bad kinds.  We all know what they are.  Having to hear that news and live under that for the rest of your life is something that only they can speak to.  I cannot imagine.

For now, I am, of course, very very hopeful.  I still have decisions to make and with cancer, everything seems so magnified.  I am happy with my one-month progress.  (I know in 5 years that will sound silly.)  I hope beyond hope that we can find what is causing all these cancers and stop it!! 

Next week, five more women will walk into my surgeon’s office and have to come out saying, if only to themselves, “I have cancer.”